PYONGYANG – Any perusal of DPRK-related media often involves the usual suspects: the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), Rodong Sinmun, and Naenara, all of which are published out of Pyongyang with the direct blessing of the North Korean government.
Then there are the outliers: the sympathetic groups which publish from beyond the borders of the peninsula. One of the more famous is the Choson Sinbo, the official newspaper of the Japanese pro-DPRK Chongryon organization, which is regularly mistaken by western outlets as being an “official” mouthpiece for Pyongyang’s government.
And then there’s Minjok Tongshin: a website believed – by the Republic of Korea government at least – to be so subversive and dangerous that it cannot legally be read from South Korean territory.
Some of its content, to be fair, bears a striking resemblance to the materials which Pyongyang itself regularly publishes: articles about Kimchi-making in the DPRK are interspersed with articles denouncing former South Korean President Park Geun-hye as a “traitor,” and pieces slamming “ridiculous anti-DPRK propaganda.”
As a result of the website’s unique characteristics, NK News has long wanted to speak to Roh Kil-nam, the Korean-American man based out of Glendale, California who’s a driving force behind Minjok Tongshin. Whatever he’s doing, North Korea seem to largely approve, having accepted him to travel in the the DPRK over 70 times, though the makeup of his readership and nature of his funding have remained mysterious.
NK News bumped into him last Saturday, as part of a press group attending a major military parade to mark the Day of the Sun: the anniversary of the birthday of the country’s founding President Kim Il Sung. Introducing himself as Ken Roh, the name he goes by back in the U.S., he had time for a quick Q&A.
NK News: What made you interested in the DPRK?
Roh Kil-nam: As a Korean, originally from South Korea, I regard the North and the South as one Korea, not two Koreas.
The South and North Koreans are my brothers and sisters, but they were divided by superpowers, such as the United States, for now over 70 years. We, at Minjok Tonshin, are playing a big role in promoting reunification.
NK News: How would you characterize Minjok Tonshin and its style and approach to information about the DPRK?
Roh Kil-nam: Well, many people say we are “pro-DPRK”, but we don’t think so. We love South Korea, we love North Korea: brothers and sisters, same thing you know?
But as you know, it’s divided not by us but by United States imperialists. We want to abolish that power’s influence.
NK News: What do the DPRK think about your publication and your goals?
Roh Kil-nam: They said that we do not fabricate, not blow up, we just deliver the truth. That’s why the DPRK people like me.
Even South Koreans like me, except the small number of people who think we’re pro-DPRK. We are not pro-DPRK, we are pro-South and pro-North – it’s the same country.
Roh scored quite a scoop when he obtained an interview with Ted and James Dresnok, sons of the late American defector to North Korea Jim Dresnok – a story that garnered international coverage.
NK News: Did you get support from your readers to cover your trips [to North Korea]?
Roh Kil-nam: We have about 150 sponsors, from Western cities in the United States, hundreds of these. We have paid editorial staffers paid – our money.
It’s historical journalism, you know?
NK News: What is your view on journalism on North Korea today?
Roh Kil-nam: Foreign media usually don’t delivery facts, truths. Global journalism is influenced by the superpowers. The United States, AP, the New York Times, CNN and things like that, that they influence.
I have conversations with them but they do not know well about the DPRK. Me, I have visited the DPRK 74 times – this was the 74th time – but still I am learning.
Featured image: NK News
Oliver Hotham contributed to this report
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